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Today's Subject is Subject Lines


It was a decade or two ago when virtually all our clients made the move from direct mail to email marketing. Having cut our teeth on 1990s "brochureware" websites, we were happy to apply direct marketing techniques to digital media. 

Whether you're sending a campaign to someone's analog mailbox or to their Outlook inbox, a lot of the rules and best practices remain the same:

• Know your audience
• Appeal to their head (promotion)
• Appeal to their heart (emotion)
• Educate and entertain them (we call it edutainment)
• Give them multiple ways to respond
• Make a compelling offer then ...
• Sell the offer, not the product
• "You" is the most powerful word
• Benefits always beat features

Your open email can look and feel like a letter, like a news article, like a postcard. But, what about the subject line?

The subject line is essentially the digital cousin of a direct mail piece's outer envelope. We've argued, effectively, that an outer envelope's only job is to get opened. The same is true with an email subject line. 

But, in some cases, the stakes are higher.

Think about your own inbound correspondence. How much so-called "snail mail" do you get in a single day? And, how much email do you get? The teaser on the outer envelope needs to help make a direct mail package stand out. The subject line for an email needs to do the same thing. But, chances are, your recipient will have many more emails to get through (which usually means "press delete") than postal mail.

Here are some guidelines for writing subject lines that get (a) noticed and (b) opened:

• Simpler, no-nonsense lines almost always work best
• Be brief; most browser windows cut off your line after 6-8 words
• Use numbers when possible
• Avoid ALL CAPS
• Avoid humor (most of the time)
• Offer a solution to a problem
• Include the deadline in your subject line if appropriate
• Test using the recipient's first name
• Eliminate "filler words" — they can wait until body copy (see what we did there?)
• Write your subject line as if it were a newspaper headline
• Ask yourself if the subject line can stand alone
• And, finally ... test, test, test (did we mention test?)

Whatever you end up with for a subject line, make sure that the open email aligns with it. If you promise something, make sure the following images and body copy deliver. If you don't, you'll lose people who were interested or never reach people who might have been interested. 

Don't pull a "bait and switch." Your goals should never include pissing off a customer or prospect.

('Just one more way that email and direct mail are more similar than you might have thought.)

Fifty Shades of Mail
Mailbox Monday

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